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Swiss goalie shows saving grace ; Germans can't solve Conz's glove mastery

Switzerland goalie Benjamin Conz doesn't really speak any English, but he knows a few words and shared them with a reporter while waiting for his translator's arrival.

"Yep."

"Lucky."

The first one answered the "are you relieved to have held on for the win after nearly frittering away a 4-0 lead?" question.

The second one described the save of the game, the highlight-reel moment that proved to be one of the many game-saving stops made by the 19-year-old in the Swiss' 4-3 triumph over Germany on Sunday to open the IIHF World Under-20 Championship in HSBC Arena.

First it was Swiss superstar Nino Niederreiter who got a rise out of the fans with a breathtaking end-to-end rush for a goal to highlight a four-goal first period by the winners. With 14:40 left in the second period, Conz earned even more cheers from the nearly 9,000 fans at the opening game of the hockey tripleheader.

The save came just after Germany's Marcel Noebels scored on the power play to make it 4-1. Conz was seemingly beat on a breakaway chance by Norman Hauner, who had an open right side of the net after deking Conz to the ice. However, Conz stuck out the paddle of his stick and deflected the shot into the crowd for one of his 32 stops.

"I think I was lucky," Conz later said through team interpreter Alex Reinhard. "It was a key save at that moment."

It was just one of many clutch stops by Conz in a game the Swiss almost gave away after burying Germany with a first-period blitz. He followed that with several more quality saves on top-notch scoring chances -- including a sensational blocker stop on Laurin Braun on an opportunity from directly in front of the net with 6:24 left in the third period. Conz made 13 saves in the final 20 minutes and was the Swiss' best penalty killer as they warded off 4 of 6 German power plays.

"He was outstanding," Switzerland coach Richard Jost said. "He's the reason we won."

"He played phenomenal for us," added Niederreiter, the New York Islanders prospect who added an assist after skating end-to-end to give Switzerland a 2-0 lead at 9:21 of the first.

It may be cliche, but goaltending and special teams are two vital ingredients that make it easier to experience the sweet taste of victory. For 20 minutes, it looked like Switzerland would feast on a young German crew that played a little too passively against a team that stunned many by placing fourth at last year's tournament.

Inti Pestoni scored off an assist by Gregory Hofmann after a turnover in the German zone 4:31 in. The Swiss followed with power-play goals 27 seconds apart by Niederreiter and Romain Loeffel. They added another with the man advantage when Luca Camperchiolo's wrister through traffic found the back of the net and ended the day for German starter Philipp Grubauer (five saves). The Swiss went 3 for 4 on the power play in the period, 3 for 6 for the game.

But the Germans, who were outshot, 10-5, in the opening period, righted themselves and slowly but surely seized control against a Swiss crew that admittedly believed the game was over after 20 minutes.

Germany, which finished with a 35-21 edge in shots, made Switzerland sweat by scoring twice in a span of 5:09 late in the third period. Matthias Plachta (one assist) and Corey Mapes beat Conz to make it a one-goal game with 4:41 left.

Germany had a couple of chances that were just off the mark in the final minutes, but came away empty-handed.

"We were not ready to play in that first period," said Germany coach Ernst Hofner via translation from assistant coach and former Sabre Uwe Krupp. "Switzerland deserved to win because they had a better start."

And an all-world goalie who was a difference-maker.

e-mail: mrodriguez@buffnews.com

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